Bi-Partisan ENDA to Be Introduced Thursday in Both Houses

This Thursday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will be introduced in the US House and the US Senate, with bi-partisan sponsorship in both houses.

The bill will be reintroduced in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the most senior openly gay member of the chamber, who’s taking over the legislation now that former Rep. Barney Frank has retired. In the Senate, the legislation will be reintroduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The lawmakers’ offices confirmed they would introduce ENDA concurrently on Thursday.

The Senate version of the bill will have five original sponsors: Merkley and lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) will be two Democrats, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) will be two Republicans and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will round out the quintet.

The number of original co-sponsors in the House remains to be seen.

Because there have been promotions from the House to the Senate since the last time a vote was held on ENDA, new counts will need to be generated for both houses:

As ENDA advances, many eyes will be on the U.S. senators who’ve recently come out for marriage equality, but haven’t yet articulated a position on the legislation.

Those who’ve come to support marriage equality, but didn’t co-sponsor ENDA in the previous Congress are Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) — and most notably Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Also in question among the U.S. senators who support marriage equality is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who’s new to Congress.

[snip]

Freshmen senators who were formerly U.S. House members — Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — were co-sponsors of ENDA in the lower chamber of Congress, so would likely support the bill again in the Senate. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has said he supports ENDA and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) signed an LGBT non-discrimination bill into law as governor of the state in 1998.

Other freshman Democrats — Sens. Mo Cowan (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — signed a letter in February identifying themselves as ENDA supporters.

One issue with getting public support in favor of ENDA — critical nowadays on social media and through building contact with public officials — is that while most Americans support non-discrimination in the workplace, almost all Americans already believe there’s a federal law protecting people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, even two years ago: (more…)

Sunday Late Night: America, Anxiously Awaiting An Agenda

O Terrorist, will you share your Why?

Your motive is a must for us to end the sentence, “This was a terrible tragedy, but….”
We must know why, to know how we really feel about your actions.

But — you sometimes attended a nearby Cambridge mosque?

But — your brother traveled overseas last year to Chechnya?

But — your YouTube playlist mirrors the wars in the Caucasus?

But — were you planning more attacks?

But — were you simply in thrall to your older brother, always? And who was he in thrall to?

But — your middling athletic success made you both somehow envious of four-hour Marathon finishers?

But — you were Chechnyan separatists, whom Russia asked our FBI to monitor? Have you and your brother been under surveillance for three years?

But — Chechnyan separatists are sometimes “good guys,” if you listen to the neo-cons, the last people who lied America into war?

But — you must be treated like an enemy combatant because of your terrorist act? Or not?

But — your actions make you and your brother thugs and common criminals?

Tell us, O Terrorist, your motives and your Why, so that we may know further how to think about your actions and your disposition. Please return to full health — and stay healthy, as not all defendants under the jurisdiction of USAttorney Carmen Ortiz have done — and tell us.

So that we may then know what to think about what you did.

Because, somehow, a dead eight-year old, two dead young women and a dead MIT policeman, as well as multiple now-limbless Marathon runners and spectators — these are not enough for us to know what to think. America anxiously awaits an agenda, so that our opinions may align with our preconceptions. (more…)

Gabby Giffords’ NYT Op-Ed

Gabby Giffords

Via email, former Congresswoman Giffords asked me to share her New York Times opinion piece published today with family and friends:

A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip
By Gabrielle Giffords

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending. Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Photo by Bill Morrow under Creative Commons license

Gabby Giffords’ NYT Op-Ed

Via email, former Congresswoman Giffords asked me to share her New York Times opinion piece published today with family and friends:

A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip
By Gabrielle Giffords

Giffords in the House after the assassination attempt.
Giffords in the House after the assassination attempt.

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending. Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

(more…)

Sunday Late Night: Why Aren’t We Hearing More About Gun Divestment?

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”420″ height=”245″ align=”right” !}
Remember apartheid divestment?

Disinvestment (or divestment) from South Africa was first advocated in the 1960s, in protest of South Africa’s system of Apartheid, but was not implemented on a significant scale until the mid-1980s. The disinvestment campaign, after being realized in federal legislation enacted in 1986 by the United States, is credited[2] as pressuring the South African Government to embark on negotiations ultimately leading to the dismantling of the apartheid system.

Now there’s gun divestment. Today:

California’s pension fund for teachers made official on Friday its plan to divest holdings in firearms companies whose weapons are illegal in the state.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System will now sell holdings in two publicly traded gunmakers Sturm, Ruger & Co and Smith & Wesson Holding. The investments are worth about $3 million.

The divestment plan has been in play since January at the $161.5 billion pension fund after State Treasurer Bill Lockyer advanced it in response to the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.

But it’s not new. Last week: (more…)

GOP: Obama Budget “a shocking attack on seniors”

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”420″ height=”236″ align=”right” !}

This was entirely predictable, given the political wrong-headedness of including Chained-CPI Social Security reductions in the president’s budget submission to Congress:

REP. GREG WALDEN (R-OR), CHAIRMAN, NRCC: Well, I thought it very intriguing in that the budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will. And we haven’t seen all the detail yet, and we’ll look at it, but I’ll tell you, when you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare, and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine, certainly, and around the country. I think he’s going to have a lot of pushback from some of the major senior organizations on this and Republicans, as well.

The head of the GOP’s Congressional election arm has framed the 2014 midterm elections. Today. Republicans are the defenders of Social Security, keeping it safe and whole from attacks on it by the Democratic president. Democrats seeking election, or especially re-election, to the House and Senate are on notice from the GOP: you can support the president’s budget and be part of a “shocking attack on seniors” … and orphans … and veterans … and widows … and the disabled.

Oh, also: it’s a tax increase, because brackets creep.

Congressional Democrats (and those who aspire to be): You can support this and be branded anti-senior by the GOP in 2014.

Or you can step away smartly from this political malpractice by Team Obama. Pick your side, because the GOP has defined them already. Nothing else will likely matter for the midterms: not peace v war, not earth v extraction industries, not gun safety v 2nd amendment remedies. The theme for 2014 is this “shocking attack on seniors.”

Congressional Democrats: Are you for it? Or are you against it?

And Then There Were Three: Tim Johnson (S.D.-Retiring) Backs Marriage Equality

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD)

I’m simply not good at predicting these US Senate turnovers on this issue; not quite as good as Chris Cillizza, anyway. He had Tim Johnson listed first, back when there were six. I had thought not running for re-election immunized Johnson from having to take a stand on this issue; Cillizza claimed not having to face South Dakota voters might free him to speak out.

Tim Johnson, who is retiring and therefore won’t face South Dakota voters again, announced Monday that he now backs marriage equality.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) joined the stampede of marriage-equality supporters today, leaving just three Senate Democrats who have not voiced support for same-sex marriage.

“After lengthy consideration, my views have evolved sufficiently to support marriage equality legislation,” Johnson said in a statement to Talking Points Memo. “This position doesn’t require any religious denomination to alter any of its tenets; it simply forbids government from discrimination regarding who can marry whom.”

Johnson is the 54th member of the Senate to back marriage equality. On Friday, Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) became the latest Senate Democrats to endorse marriage equality as the Supreme Court considers two landmark same-sex marriage cases.

Unlike other recent conversions, Senator Johnson explicitly backs “marriage equality legislation” and is not simply supportive of the cases before the Supreme Court. It’s an interesting distinction as Gay Inc. considers whether to press for the Respect For Marriage Act, which repeals DOMA legislatively, in their current strategy.

Unfazed and unmoving in their opposition are Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). Last week Mark Pryor said “put me down in the undecided category. As for Mary Landrieu:

In a recent interview with CNN, Landrieu suggested that while she personally believes same-sex couples should be able to marry — saying “people should love who they love and marry who they want to marry” — she’s unable to officially take that position because her state has passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Landrieu is up for re-election next year in a state that’s consistently “red” in presidential elections.

“My state has a very strong constitutional amendment not only against gay marriage but against gay partnerships,” Landrieu said. “So I’m looking at the people of Louisiana trying to represent their interests,” she said.

Leading or following, that’s always the dilemma, isn’t it, Mary?

Sunday Late Night: Hell-Bound Dick Cheney

Who made the most money of all the contractors during the War On Iraq?

Houston-based energy-focused engineering and construction firm KBR, Inc. (NYSE:KBR), which was spun off from its parent, oilfield services provider Halliburton Co. (NYSE:HAL), in 2007.

The company was given $39.5 billion in Iraq-related contracts over the past decade, with many of the deals given without any bidding from competing firms, such as a $568-million contract renewal in 2010 to provide housing, meals, water and bathroom services to soldiers, a deal that led to a Justice Department lawsuit over alleged kickbacks, as reported by Bloomberg.

And how did it come to pass that private contractors developed a profit opportunity in American war-making?

In 1992, the Pentagon, then under Cheney’s direction, paid Texas-based Brown & Root Services $3.9 million to produce a classified report detailing how private companies — like itself — could help provide logistics for American troops in potential war zones around the world. BRS specializes in such work; from 1962 to 1972, for instance, the company worked in the former South Vietnam building roads, landing strips, harbors, and military bases. Later in 1992, the Pentagon gave the company an additional $5 million to update its report. That same year, BRS won a massive, five-year logistics contract from the US Army Corps of Engineers to work alongside American GIs in places like Zaire, Haiti, Somalia, Kosovo, the Balkans, and Saudi Arabia.

And Halliburton owned Brown & Root, the company that launched the war-zone privatization study under SecDef Cheney. Who then became the

CEO of Halliburton Company, the Dallas-based oil services giant — which just happens to own Brown & Root Services. Since then, Cheney has collected more than $10 million in salary and stock payments from the company. In addition, he is currently [in 2000] the company’s largest individual shareholder, holding stock and options worth another $40 million. Those holdings have undoubtedly been made more valuable by the ever-more lucrative contracts BRS continues to score with the Pentagon.

It’s not over, of course.

Even though the military has largely pulled out of Iraq, private contractors remain on the ground and continue to reap U.S. government contracts. For example, the U.S. State Department estimates that taxpayers will dole out $3 billion to private guards for the government’s sprawling embassy in Baghdad.

There has never been anyone in public life like the self-selected Vice President to GWB. And, should it come to pass there ever is again, could America survive it? Have we even survived Dick? (more…)

Red-State Freshmen Democrats Heitcamp and Donnelly: Yes on Marriage Equality

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Sen. Heidi Heitcamp (ND)

Two red-state Democrats, brand-new to the US Senate this January and thus not facing voters in North Dakota and Indiana until 2018, have announced their backing for marriage equality. Heidi Heitcamp (ND) and Joe Donnelly (IN) announced Friday that they support same-sex marriage. This brings the Democratic Hold-Out Caucus to four members: Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Heitkamp:

“In speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief.”

Donnelly (who was specific and purposeful against same-sex marriage when asked during his Senate campaign) today:

“With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes,” he said. “In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.”

Six Senators have come aboard the Equality Train only this week.

Six Senate Democrats Remain Opposed; Bill Nelson (FL) Backs Marriage Equality

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

This conversion was actually quite unexpected. Although in his list yesterday of Senate Democrats likely to switch sides, WaPo’s Young Conventional Wisdomeer Chris Cillizza listed Bill Nelson second-most-likely to support marriage equality, Firedoglake readers mostly thought him unlikely to flip.

Well.

It is generally accepted in American law and U.S. society today “… that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I believe that. The civil rights and responsibilities for one must pertain to all.
Thus, to discriminate against one class and not another is wrong for me.
If we are endowed by our Creator with rights, then why shouldn’t those be attainable by Gays and Lesbians?
Simply put, if The Lord made homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage? I shouldn’t, and I won’t.
So I will add my name to the petition of senators asking the Supreme Court to declare the law that prohibits gay marriage unconstitutional.

The six remaining Senate Democrats, ranked by Cillizza from most likely to least likely to announce changed views “in the near term” are: Tim Johnson (SD-retiring), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Mary Landrieu (LA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Mark Pryor (AR). I fail to see any upside for Johnson to announce a different view, as he won’t face voters again. Although I suppose that argument cuts both ways. Heitkamp won’t face voters until 2018: won’t this issue be way behind us by then? Donnelly ran last fall specifically opposed to marriage equality, so I see no change there soon.

At the current rate of conversion, the Senate Democratic caucus will all be flipped by next Tuesday. But don’t count on it.